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Friday, September 10, 2021

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks, the story of a miraculous escape

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks, the story of a miraculous escape


TCSN Desk 

11 Sep 21

That September night, Roselle, the yellow Labrador, woke up, shivering and yelping in fear. Like always, she had sensed that a thunderstorm was brewing, and her owner, Michael 

Hingson, had to take her down the stairs to his basement to shield her under his desk. Hours later, the guide dog would help Hingson, who was born blind, walk down the stairs to safety from the 78th floor of the rapidly disintegrating World Trade Centre (WTC) in New York, minutes after terror outfit Al Qaeda crash-landed a plane, American Airlines Flight 11, through tower 1 (North Tower). Seventeen minutes later, there would be another plane, United Airlines Flight 175, that would crash into the South Tower. Some 2,750 people died in New York and thousands were injured, the repercussions of that attack rippling across nations over the decades.

A public speaker, Hingson is now busy creating a programme called ‘Blinded by fear’ to teach people how to control their fear and build trust and teamwork. Twenty years after that day of terror that changed global politics forever, the California resident shares the extraordinary tale of a blind man, a guide dog and a triumph of trust at ground zero.


The dawn of September 11 had broken out, pink and cool. It was an important day at work; as the regional sales manager for a data protection company Quantum ATL, he was hosting a trainee sales seminar along with a colleague from California, David Frank, at the WTC. As guests began arriving, they were ushered to the breakfast area. Roselle had been asleep under his desk when it began. “I guess most people say it was at 8.46 am.” The building shook and began to tip. Hingson thought it was the end. “We thought the building was going to fall to the street. Buildings like that are flexible as they are made to move around in windstorms. But certainly, nothing like this had ever happened before,” he says.


Roselle stirred when he went back to his office room.”I took her leash and told her to ‘heel’, which means to come around on my left side and sit.” Hingson could hear things brushing against the window and the panicked screams of guests. “David said he saw burning papers and fire. He told me, ‘Michael, the building is going to fall, we need to get out.'” Seeing Hingson still relatively calm, David went, “You don’t understand, you can’t see it”. But Hingson had noticed something that David hadn’t seen.


“Roselle wasn’t nervous. She was sitting next to me and not reacting at all. There was fire and things falling but it wasn’t so close to affecting her, which told me, we didn’t need to panic. We needed to evacuate in an orderly way. The problem with most people is they think that if you’re blind, you can’t do those things. To see isn’t just with the eyes. They don’t even imagine ever doing anything without eyesight. And so they fear being blind, fear going blind.”


Karen and Hingson had loved walking around New York City. “We would play tour guides and show people the city, going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral or walking down Fifth Avenue. We had a lot of fun doing that.” They loved the live Broadway musicals. Othello, played by James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer as Iago stick out in his memory. “It was one of the most powerful performances I had ever witnessed.” Another favourite is the actor Jerry Lewis’s Broadway ‘Damn Yankees’. “It’s a baseball musical. It was the only time Jerry Lewis was on Broadway; great that we got to see that”. Not long after 9/11, the couple moved to California.


On that fateful morning, at about 8.50 am, five minutes after the first plane crashed into the tower, Hingson and Roselle headed to the stairwell. He hadn’t had any time to collect much from his work desk, including his much-prized HP calculator that had been modified to talk. “I enjoyed that calculator. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it would be the last time I would use it,” Hingson smiles.

Not one to usually calculate the number of stairs – “that’s what the dog is for” – that day, to occupy his mind, he did. There were 19 stairs per floor, split into two flights, nine after a turn at a landing. “I figured out that we were going to have to go down 1,463 stairs approximately. Just mathematically it was a puzzle, so it gave me something to do.” As soon as he hit the stairs, an odour hit him. “I couldn’t place it immediately but it was something familiar.” It took him about four floors to realise that it was the fumes of burning jet fuel. “The same thing I smelt when I went to an airport. But no one could figure out what was going on,” he says.